Is the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy worth the hassle?

Is the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy worth the hassle? Does it waste time or give players much needed game time? Adam Johnson looks at the pros and cons of the tournament…

“Mehdi Kerrouche is through…and he scores! Swindon Town have surely won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy!”

Now, I don’t know about you, but picturing this moment doesn’t get the blood pumping.

Originally the Associate Members’ Cup and now the Football League Trophy and sponsored by a tin of paint, the JPT isn’t the most coveted trophy in English Football. So, the longstanding question remains, can it ever be useful?

Some argue that it gives game time to fringe players and a trip to Wembley that many clubs wouldn’t get to experience otherwise. Others say it’s another unwanted game and a competition that isn’t worth winning.

With many clubs taking the latter stance, the Football League brought in rule 7.3 from 2006/07 which stated:

‘‘Each Club shall play its full available strength in all matches. The Board will from time to time issue guidance as to what constitutes ‘full available strength’. Any Club failing to meet this requirement will be required to pay a fine of up to £5,000.’’

The aim therefore is to make sure that six of your main players play to attract crowds and generate a sense of interest.

This was brought in after low attendances, such as Swindon v Peterborough in 2005 which had an abysmal attendance of 969.

Only happy when you reach the final?

Before really looking into the competition, I’ll make it clear as to what the aims of the competition are. The JPT tries to bring more kids into stadiums with earlier start times and no extra time meaning if a match ends as a draw, the game goes straight to penalties. Tickets are cheaper and with Southern and Northern sections, people should be able to easily travel to games. These motives are great but are they rules they may be better suited to another competition?

However, Paolo Di Canio before the 2-1 win over Exeter made sure everyone knew what his aim is for the tournament. That’s to make sure we’re walking up Wembley Way on the 25th of March 2012. Some of his reasoning behind why Town should take the competition seriously makes sense but with many pros also come cons.

Di Canio said: ‘‘we are not top of the league where you can maybe think about the next league game.’’ This point is fair as we have been inconsistent away from home and any victory not obtained in the SN1 area would be a boost to the players. With the club not firing on all cylinders in League Two, are more games the answer? That depends on which way you look at it.

The win against Exeter showed how the JPT can be a useful competition as all the positives of the competition shone out. Jake Jervis took his chance and has been ever present in recent weeks, which may not have happened otherwise. Missing men Lander Gabilondo and left back Alessandro Cibocchi also got a chance to show their worth. The game gave Di Canio a chance to see these players in action but this isn’t the aim of the competition, with rule 7.3 limiting these chances.

The con would be that extra game time for the majority of your usual matchday squad is a hindrance that could be avoided. Winning the JPT isn’t seen as being worth the added games due to low attendances and with the general clamour of the tournament not being worth the overall effort which could affect your league performances.

With Swindon not sitting top of the league, Di Canio’s reasoning behind thinking that a good run in the JPT could fix our league form does have legitimacy. Cup runs can bring a new confidence from less pressurised situations going into the tense affair of a league game. On the flip side, us not being top of the league shows we need to keep our eyes on sorting that out and focusing on something else as a distraction will only hide our inconsistencies in the league.

This discussion about whether we should take the JPT seriously because of player fitness is vital, but the reason why most clubs care about any competition is for the financial reward.

2011 JPT FInal winners Carlisle United

Clubs such as Swindon want to get through the first few stages of the Carling Cup and FA Cup to try to pull Manchester United etc…out of the hat. However, the most lucrative JPT tie Swindon could get is Oxford, which would be great for the fans but with 45% of the ticket sales going to either side (rule 22.1.1), neither club have the potential to make a payday out of it.

The one thing that shone out to me from watching back some of the highlights was the lack of fans. Out of the 13 games played, there was an average attendance of 3,187 with the worse attendance being the 931 who witnessed Wycombe v Cheltenham.

To try and increase the effort that clubs put in, you also get money on a round by round basis if you win. The layout is as follows: £5,000 (first round), £7,000 (second round), £10,000 (area quarter-final), £17,000 (area semi-final), £25,500 (area final) and £40,000 (winners). These amounts again don’t make chairmen of football clubs rub their hands together, but to many football clubs, it is money they’d rather have then not.

The real money comes if you make the final and a decent crowd turns up out of the two clubs involved. In the 2010 final between Southampton and Carlisle, Cumberland News in Carlisle reported that, “Gate receipts, prize money and merchandising took the club’s windfall from the competition to above £500,000”. This is a large windfall for a Football League club but with their being six matches to get there, it’s again a gamble to try and make it to the final.

The final doesn’t just have financial reward of Wembley but a good day out for fans as it would be rare for several league teams to get the chance to play there. Many supporters like the idea of a day out at Wembley but I’d rather go there for a more meaningful cup or game. Going to Wembley for the playoff final was brilliant and a meaningful trip. If Swindon made it to Wembley in the JPT, I’d go but I know I wouldn’t be bothered if we won or lost.

With all the facts now displayed for you to make a judgement, mine is that the competition should be taken as a chance to see the true depth that we have at the club and give fringe players game time.

As the club is required to play a majority of the regular first teamers, Paolo Di Canio’s aims to win the trophy means that some will be playing on a consistent basis. With our league form picking up recently, I’d rather this continued than a cup run in the JPT which is to me only a hindrance.

I’m not saying that a cup run will affect our league form but I’d rather our attention went on League Two. The only way the JPT becomes truly worth the effort is if you make it to Wembley and even then, seeing Paul Caddis and co lift the JPT won’t feel me with any excitement.

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